RICHMOND, Va. — Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli has given a Richmond charity $18,000, the same value as gifts he accepted from a troubled nutritional supplements maker and its CEO whose giving to Gov. Bob McDonnell spawned criminal investigations.
Cuccinelli announced the donation in an online video sent to supporters Tuesday afternoon. The Virginia attorney general told The Associated Press he did it to stem lingering fallout over gifts he received from Star Scientific Inc. and its chief executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr.
Cuccinelli does not identify the charity in the video but said in the interview that it is CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, which provides free medical care to the homeless and working poor in the Richmond area. He said he will not be reimbursed.
“This isn’t money I had laying around. This had to be accumulated. Like most people, I can’t just cut an $18,000 check,” Cuccinelli said. “That took a while to do. We’ve done it. That wasn’t an overnight type of occurrence.”
Cuccinelli received $18,000 in gifts from Star Scientific and Williams. He said he concluded after listening to supporters that the gifts were perceived as a problem for his gubernatorial campaign.
“The idea here is to clear the air. I’ve heard from my own supporters and people around the state on this and from my perspective, we’ll be able to … focus on issues not, maybe not completely but as much as possible,” he said.
Cuccinelli is not a wealthy man. He, his wife, Tiero, and their seven children lived in Fairfax County on reported household income of $192,279 last year, most of it from wages of $157,350 earned as attorney general, according to his 2012 income tax returns, made available to journalists earlier this year.
The gifts from Williams and or his company date to a 2009 flight to New York. They include some items that Cuccinelli maintained he initially forgot to disclose until he amended four years’ worth of required state economic disclosure statements in April. The amendments disclosed a $3,000 summer vacation last year and a $1,500 catered Thanksgiving feast in 2010, both at the Smith Mountain Lake waterside mansion that Williams recently sold.
The largest single component of the gifts was $6,712 worth of Star Scientific nutritional supplements that the company gave to Cuccinelli in 2011. That same year, company representatives unsuccessfully lobbied senior McDonnell administration officials to include its anti-inflammatory supplement, Anatabloc, in the health benefits plan for all Virginia government employees.
In the video, Cuccinelli tells supporters he sent the donation “to resolve any questions surrounding the matter concerning Star Scientific. I made the decision to send the check because it’s the right thing to do, plain and simple.”
But the video also has a broader subtext as Cuccinelli argues that he’s “always put the interests of the commonwealth above my own.” He ticks off actions as attorney general as wide-ranging as fighting human trafficking and suing to challenge the constitutionality of the 2010 federal health care law.
That claim seeks to address not only the gifts issue but what Democrats say was collaboration between the attorney general’s office and major energy companies being sued by southwestern Virginia landowners, who alleged the companies were taking gas from beneath their property without paying them royalties for it.
Cuccinelli has been attacked over the gifts and the royalties litigation in more than $850,000 worth of television ads aired by NextGen Climate Action, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, an independent tracker of cash in politics. The political action committee, headed by billionaire Tom Steyer, does not identify its donors. The ad ends accusing Cuccinelli of “helping himself, not us.”
Pressure mounted on Cuccinelli to return the gifts or reimburse Williams for them after McDonnell publicly apologized for more than $145,000 in gifts and loans that Williams gave him and his family, and pledged to return all tangible gifts or repay Williams for them.
Cuccinelli at the time said he couldn’t return or reimburse Williams for the gifts because no money ever changed hands. “There are some bells you can’t unring,” he said then.
Cuccinelli also once owned more than $10,000 in company stock.
The gifts to McDonnell prompted a federal criminal investigation into whether Williams or his company benefited as a result. A state investigation also continues into whether McDonnell violated the state’s porous ethics laws by not publicly reporting the gifts on his annual statements of economic interest. McDonnell defended his decision, saying state law exempts gifts given to public officials’ family members from disclosure. No one has been charged.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Herring, a Democrat, concluded after a review of the case that Cuccinelli’s belated disclosures violated no Virginia law.
Democrats were swift to make the most of Cuccinelli’s announcement Tuesday. Democratic Party of Virginia spokesman Brian Coy said, “This late, clearly political act can’t undo his unethical pattern of putting his own financial interests ahead of Virginia families.”
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